VCS Topics

Seminars offered under the heading VCS Topics build skills in historical investigation, critical thinking, and visual analysis, while providing students with key theoretical tools as well as exposure to their academic, social, and artistic applications.

VCS Topics offerings include such seminars as Sites and Perceptions, as well as other theory-driven, writing-intensive courses focused on areas of faculty specialization.



  • Investigate the nature of perceptions, especially the politics of visual relationships
  • Ask how we see through technical apparatuses and how visual regimes change over time

Perceptions provides an overview of Visual and Critical Studies in relation to approaches, frameworks, and theories of visual perception. This course explores a series of key topics in the field of visual and critical studies concerning the interplay between images and media with the aim of developing a critical understanding of these complexities. As this survey course looks into a number of theories concerning this evolving connection, the main focus of our inquiries will be a cluster of consistently recurring ideas about vision, media, and their influence on our perception of “Reality”.

Specifically, we will examine different versions of the premise that "modes of perception" change alongside transformations in visual technology. We will discuss several examples of visual experiences, from painting to photography, from cinema to television and their relationship to notions of subjectivity, knowledge, power, and politics. Our investigation will be supported by close readings of seminal contributions to the field of philosophy, critical and visual studies in the 20th century, produced by a variety of thinkers, including Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Guy Debord, John Berger, Michel Foucault, Ariel Dorfman, Armand Mattelart, Roland Barthes, Paul Virilio, Vilém Flusser, Jean Baudrillard, and Régis Debray.
Students will: a) compare and contrast the scholars’ different approaches and rhetorical styles in order to develop a critical strategy to assess the Visual; b) Use principles of Visual and Critical Studies to analyze works of historical and contemporary visual culture; c) Sharpen their research, verbal and written skills through weekly readings, formal presentations, and the development of critical papers on topics related to images, media, and perception.

Selected Readings:

  • Karen Barad, “The Ontology of Knowing, the Intra-activity of Becoming, and the Ethics of Mattering” from Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 353-396 [esp.369-384].
  • Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill and Wang, [1979] 1981.
  • Jonathan Crary, “Modernity and the Problem of the Observer” and “The Camera Obscura and Its Subject” From Techniques of the Observer : On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, MA:MITPress,1990),1-66.
  • René Descartes, “Optics” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (London: Routledge, 1998), 60-65.
  • Richard Dyer, “The light of the world” from White (London: Routledge, 1997), 82-144.
  • Flusser, Vilém. Into the Universe of Technical Images. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [1985] 2011.
  • McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. London: Penguin Books. 1967.
  • Oliver Sacks, “To See and Not See”in An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (New York: Vintage, 1996), 108-152.


  • Explore how meaning is constituted in spatial fields

This class extends the "spatial turn" of critical theory, scrutinizing uses of place and site as they relate to questions of identity and memory. Through close readings of texts culled from a broad range of disciplines (Psychoanalysis and Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Architecture and Planning, Geography and Sociology), Sites explores the origins, forms, and uses of situated SPACE - in pictures, buildings, cities, landscapes and monuments. The course is framed - through reading presentations and discussions, field trips and written assignments - by the following questions: How do (gendered) bodies develop in/through space? What is the relationship between lived space, representational space and virtuality? By what set of spatial practices are we "positioned" culturally? Where and when do meaning, memory and place.